Reshma Saujani, the 34-year-old former hedge fund attorney seeking to unseat Carolyn Maloney in the 14th Congressional District, has conducted focus groups and polls for her candidacy, an entirely normal activity for a politician, but one that’s in apparent contradiction to statements she made to The Observer for a profile in Wednesday’s paper.
“I haven’t issue-tested or poll-tested what I’m saying or what I’m talking about. It’s what I feel from the gut,” Ms. Saujani told The Observer. “People always ask me, ‘Why are you running? Why are you running?’ I really feel called to serve.”
But Jules Vigh, a Murray Hill paralegal, a member of the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Coalition and a Maloney supporter, told The Observer she took part in a focus group about Ms. Saujani and Ms. Maloney earlier this spring.
Ms. Vigh couldn’t remember the precise date, but she said it was held in the offices of Focus Pointe at 240 Madison Avenue.
“There were 15 women in the room, and they were all from Carolyn’s district,” Ms. Vigh said. “They showed us clips of both candidates and wanted to get our overall impression. The first round, they had the sound off. And then they put the sound on.”
“They asked us how we feel about Carolyn, because she’s been a congresswoman for so long, and how we felt about Reshma as a newcomer,” said Ms. Vigh, who was paid $100 for her participation. “She has a very impressive background. Everyone seemed to agree upon that. But at the end of the focus group, everyone was leaning toward voting for Carolyn because of her experience.”
A spokesman for Ms. Maloney said the focus group was not hers.
Ms. Saujani’s campaign spokesman, James Allen, did not deny the focus group was hers, but he did issue the following statement: “Nothing in this account in any way contradicts Reshma’s statements. Reshma’s innovative ideas and initiatives are the result of face-to-face conversations with voters around the district and other industry leaders. It’s understandable, but disappointing, that the incumbent’s campaign is trying to divert attention from Reshma’s fresh policies to instead focus on more of the same tired political sniping that voters are tired of hearing about.”
According to Ms. Saujani’s campaign, the comments Reshma made to The Observer referred to proposals like an “Innovation Bank” to underwrite new ideas, and her plan for immigration reform, discussion of which did take place before her statement, but that she did not mean to suggest she hadn’t done focus groups or polling on the candidate’s basic messaging.
Ms. Saujani’s campaign filings indicate she paid nearly $50,000 to Momentum Analysis, headed by Margie Omero, who declined to comment. But Ms. Omero’s Web site lists her services as: “Qualitative research, such as focus groups…”; “Quantitative Research” and “surveys”; “Integrated Analysis”; and “Individual Research Projects.”
The full exchange with Ms. Saujani is below:
Observer: Doesn’t New York need a more diversified economy, one less reliant on Wall Street?
I totally agree. And that’s why we are building this innovation effort. The first community I really got to know was the tech community. Because what I saw for a lot of my friends that for example went to MIT, worked at Goldman Sachs, you know, were wooed to go work there, they really had the capacity to create the next Google, or the next Facebook, were laid off. Here was our opportunity to really do that, to actually create something. If you go to the Ace Hotel at any second of the day, it is just booming with 20- and 30- and 40-year-olds who want to create that next company. And New York is once again the place where people are actually coming to build those companies. So the question is what are we really doing to invest in them, and what is the federal government doing to invest in them? Because we have to diversify our economy, we can’t be overly reliant on any sector, because it’s not healthy. And, we’re falling behind. I went to a wedding in India months ago and right in the middle of this village was a biotech company. You can’t find a biotech company in the middle of any metropolitan city. What Germany is doing with RPS and clean tech is just so far ahead of us. And Israel! They’ve already figured out the electric car and are going to put it into place in the next year. I mean, all these nations are surpassing us in their innovation and their creativity, and we’re not even talking about it. We’re one of the few nations that don’t even have a national innovation policy. So what we’ve put forth is the idea of a national innovation bank, which is to figure out how you increase the amount of start-ups, and the amount of investment, in clean tech, biotech and nanotech. And we’re actually one of the first candidates, probably ever, we’re writing our own legislation. So, we can actually send you that.
So essentially you’re running as the young, fresh alternative, à la Obama, Cory Booker?
I think it’s a sense that the world has really changed. And I think that whether it’s Cory, whether it’s me, whether it’s the president, we spent a lot of time talking to friends and colleagues living in other parts of the world and we see the innovations and the advances they’re making elsewhere and I think there’s a sense that America’s falling behind.
Do you think that you stand a chance of winning?
I know I’m going to win.
Why do you think that?
Because we’re out there with the people every single day and her support is really soft. And when people meet us, you know, what does really frustrate me about the money raised is because there is this perception that I just walked onto the trading floors and grabbed 20 $400 checks. What we’ve had to do is really hard. I’ve had to go out there, and eight out of 10 times, it will be a house party and I’ll say, “Don’t write me any money. Listen to what I have to say, ask me a million questions, and if you like what I have to say, write me a check.” That’s how we raise our money. It’s in $35 checks, $50 checks, $10 checks, $2,000 checks. We’ve had to provide our platform and our vision for leadership and people really feel it. And I haven’t issue-tested or poll-tested what I’m saying or what I’m talking about. It’s what I feel from the gut. People always ask me, why are you running? Why are you running? I really feel called to serve. ”